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Road Test 2

I did not have the opportunity to try out the speed related intermittent windscreen wipers - perversely the sun shone throughout the four days of the test but I have no reason to believe they will be anything less than impressive. Headlights were excellent on both dipped and main beam.

So far, so good. However, no car is perfect and it must be said that the Picasso falls short of perfection on a number of scores:- firstly there is the digital speedo on which I have already commented.

Secondly, the bodywork contains a lot of visible spot welds - visible when the doors and bonnet are opened - and evidence of lead filler. Shutlines could be better too. Although the paintwork is excellent on the exterior, it was patchy on panels that are normally hidden from view. The Dutch car was worse than the British one in this respect - lacquer had not been applied to the transverse under bonnet panel. The bonnet panel itself is crudely made. Looking at the underside of the car, there are a number of mud traps.

Thirdly there is the interior which uses some tactilely horrible plastics replete with visible moulding marks. The centre console suffers the most with the ashtray and cubby hole covers feeling extremely flimsy. Similarly the trays at the rear of the front seats and the plastic covers at the base of the rear of the front seats are also flimsy and Peter, my three year old son, managed to dismantle all of these in a matter of seconds. I do not think they would last very long with small children about. However, they are specifically designed to be easily removed and in the event of an accident are designed not to cause injury. Not quite so bad are the interior door handles and rear window winders although if small children are to be carried, electric rear windows with an override switch in the front are de rigeur...  A clever touch is the under floor storage areas in the rear - ideal for concealing valuables from prying eyes.

The two tone dash has a couple of rubber-covered flat areas that are ideal for placing a mobile ‘phone or camera but the light colour of the top of the dash reflects badly in the windscreen and at night, the illuminated hazard warning switch reflects in the screen.

The indicators audible warning is reminiscent of the clacking of a set of badly fitting dentures but at least this means that you are unlikely to see a Picasso with its indicators flashing away unnecessarily.

Then there is the centre rear seat belt that is routed via a bracket in the roof and obscures rearward visibility quite noticeably. The bracket in question is on the offside of the car and has not been moved in the conversion to RHD.

But worst of all are those comfortable looking seats. At the end of the one hour drive from Slough to Andover, my back was very painful. Now I suffered a slipped disc several years ago and am particularly prone to back pain as a result so I assumed it was just me but both Arthur and Ellen told me they too were suffering from lower back pain and neither of them have any history of back injuries. Christina too said she suffered some twinges. On 3rd June, we went to the GS/A & Ami Rally and before setting out, I ensured that the seat and wheel were optimally positioned. Within 20 minutes, I was in pain. Clearly the problem is a total absence of lumbar support. I was in such pain that on the 4th of June, I could not face driving the Picasso so we went out in my wide's Xantia and in the Dutch Picasso. I rode in the back of the Dutch car and discovered that the nearside rear seat was much firmer than either of the front seats but my head touched the headlining. The middle and offside seats were just as bad as those in the front and my head did not touch the headlining. When it came to returning the car to Slough on 5th June, I 'phoned them and explained that due to back pain I would prefer that Christina drive the car. Hopefully this will be referred back to Neuilly since it spoils what is an otherwise excellent product.

The trip to the GS/A & Ami Rally was good fun - a pair of Picassos travelling in convoy attracted a lot of attention from other road users; there was the driver of a Mťgane Scťnic who had to overtake us to get a good look and other CitroŽn drivers rubbernecked. At the Rally, the two Picassos were the undoubted stars of the show.

I covered just under 300 miles at an average fuel consumption of 36 mpg - a figure that I would expect to improve on once the engine had loosened up. A more gentle driving style would help too. The Dutch car managed some 56 mpg - both of these (real world) figures are impressive.

Arthur's car developed noise from the nearside front suspension strut and the driver's seat has worked its way loose. Inevitably this calls into question the matter of build quality and quality control although I should point out that his car too is a press fleet car and may very well have been hammered over the last six months.

To sum up then, the Picasso presents an extremely strong visual identity, it is obviously a CitroŽn. It rides and handles well and both performance and fuel consumption are good. The interior architecture is highly adaptable and stowage space is excellent. There are questions however over build quality and the seats are awful. The quality of some of the trim is questionable and far from childproof - surprising since market research shows that buyers of compact MPVs are typically (75%) male whilst six out of 10 purchasers are aged between 35-54 years and have children. Clearly the car is built down to a very competitive price.

With 117 bhp available, the 1.8i SX at GBP 14,625 is more powerful than the GBP 75 more expensive Scťnic which has only 110 bhp. The Vauxhall/Opel Zafira offers seven seats, 115 bhp and costs a staggering GB 1625 more. The Fiat Multipla costs GBP 455 more and offers 115 bhp. Standard equipment on the Picasso includes passenger and lateral airbags which are options on the competitors (although a passenger airbag is standard on the Scťnic) and the CitroŽn is the only one in which the passenger airbags may be deactivated - essential if you have a baby in a rear-facing baby seat on the front seat.

Picasso is the first CitroŽn to make use of Multiplex wiring which is the key to many of the neat touches that simply would not be practicable with conventional electrical systems. For example, the Picasso is the first car in its class to offer the convenience of ‘guide me home lights’ – headlamps can be left on for 60 seconds when leaving the car in a driveway and heading for the front door.

All this is possible due to a system that simplifies the electrical wiring and reduces the number of connections by approximately 20% helping to reduce the total weight of the vehicle. At the same time, the reliability of the electrical system is further improved by multiplexed components operating on just two wires – and capable of working perfectly on just one – thereby overcoming the conventional problem of loose connections that lead to failure of electronic components. Hidden in the structure of the vehicle, the Built-in Systems Interface communicates digitally with six modules via the Vehicle Area Network that manage functions relating to the instrument cluster, air conditioning and car stereo.

Less technical, but equally impressive is the Xsara Picasso’s three tier low conductivity windscreen which holds the temperature down thanks to a middle layer of reflective metal oxide sandwiched between the outer and inner layers of glass that helps to reduce the interior temperature by 6ļC. This minimises the heating of the dashboard caused by the sun’s rays, effectively eliminating the "radiator effect" from the fascia and thereby helping to keep the cabin cool. Solar Plus tinted windows are fitted in all the doors and the tailgate, again helping to provide protection from the sun’s rays.

The Picasso impressed me on a number of scores. I could live with the cheap trim and the digital dash but not with the seats. The seating question has been referred to Neuilly and hopefully some changes will be made.

I hope to be able to persuade Arthur to describe his impressions.

Now, a Picasso with two litre HPi engine, auto-adaptive gearbox and decent seats would be a very attractive proposition. An Exclusive perhaps?

© Julian Marsh 2000